University of Virginia Library

Blake's Numbering of the Plates

In each copy of Jerusalem printed by Blake he numbered the leaves consecutively with pen and ink just above the top right edge of the printed plate. It is this foliation, after printing, that gives us the two different arrangements for Chapter 2 discussed above. Fragments of a more mysterious tale, however, are told by the numbers which Blake engraved in (or sometimes etched near) the top right corners of his plates. These were apparently made for his guidance (or a helper's guidance) before printing; they were engraved or etched so lightly that they were usually hidden by the inking of the plates; yet they show up, occasionally in a row of deleted and undeleted numerals, on nearly all the pages of one or more of the posthumously printed copies, being particularly legible in the Rosenbloom copy.

In the British Museum copy only nine numbers are visible — and only one of these corresponds to the position of the plate in this or any known copy. Obviously Blake did not bring his numbering up to date before printing; quite possible most of the plates lacked numbering of any kind when he printed the British Museum and Rinder copies. (In the following discussion, "J" is used to desgnate the number of the plate in the "standard" Keynes arrangement, i.e. that of the Mellon and Harvard copies.)


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In the British Museum copy the title page, J2, is numbered "1" and the preface, J3, bears a deleted "2" (indicating a time when the frontispiece, J1, was not present or did not precede title and preface); J28, the first page of "Chap: 2", is numbered "1°" (possibly meaning "10", possibly from an incised "18" or "12" — in any case pointing to a time when the chapters were considerably shorter; J35 is numbered "31" (its actual position and folio number in this copy); J37 is "36" (a symptom of early rearrangement in this area, for its actual position and folio number are 33); J38[34] is numbered "6" (and superficially this plate looks as if it might originally have followed J5 — but see below); and J45[40] has two digits side by side, the first deleted, the second an undeleted "9" — probably one number replacing another, but just possibly a half-deleted two-digit number.

(On J23 there also seems to be a trace of some deleted number.)

Perhaps the "6" on J38 is worth discussion. This is one of a group of plates, J5, J38 ("6"), J7, J45 ("9"), and possibly J4 (first page of "Chap: 1"), which are very similar in design, in line, in general appearance, and are unlike other plates in the first half of Jerusalem. J6, lying between J5 and J7, is strikingly different in design and even in thickness of lettering — an obvious insertion. J38 ("6") looks as if it belonged here; it even meshes with the catchword on J5 ("His"). Yet its own catchword ("By") does not fit the top of J7; the fragmented sentences at the beginning and end of its text cannot possibly be spliced to the adjacent fragments of J5 and J7; moreover the text on J6 is so tightly related to the beginning of J7 that it must be a repetition or variant of some earlier canceled plate in this position. As for J45 ("9"), it does not link directly to any others in the group. In short, we lack sufficient evidence for a valid reconstruction even of a small segment of an early arrangement of Chapter 1. We can, however, see that the first etching of plates was followed by a good deal of shuffling and reorganization and substitution of new plates before Blake was ready to print the first extant copies.

Plate numbers also apparently deriving from early stages of production are found on four of the Jerusalem pages in the small bundle of miscellaneous pages and proofs in the Rosenwald Collection. Here is another J38 numbered "6"; here are a J9 numbered "25" (or just possibly "23", as someone has penciled on the mounting paper), a J20 numbered "16" (a number deleted but visible in posthumous copies, beside the "20" that must have been added later), and a J50 numbered "19" (a number still visible and not apparently deleted in posthumous copies). Oddly Blake never changed or supplemented the "19" on Plate 50, which is marked "End of Chap: 2d" (perhaps guide enough). It indicates that at one time the chapters were under ten pages in length. Perhaps the number of J28, first page of Chapter 2, was actually "10" (see above). At that rate the "XXVIII Chapters" would have made a book of about 250 plates.


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In the Cunliffe copy (Chapter 1) no numbers are visible.

In the Rinder copy the only number to be made out from the facsimile is this same "1°" on J28

The Harvard and Mellon copies tell a different story. Before their printing Blake evidently numbered or renumbered all or nearly all his plates to conform to his current plan. Visible in one or the other of these copies, or in both, are numbers corresponding to the actual positions of J1-13, 16, 19-22, 25, 26, 28-32, 36, 38, 40-43, 47, 49, 52, 54-56, 58, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 68, 70, 72-74, 77-81, 84-86, 88, 90-93, 98. Some of these numerals were etched, possibly when the corner positions had already been occupied by engraved numbers now deleted: J52 (near center of page), 46, 56, 65, 68 (at end of line 2), 72 (end of line 11), 74 (half inch from corner). From the posthumous copies we can further deduce that at this time numbers indicating their current positions were given to J14, 15, 17, 18, 23, 24, 27, 33-35, 37, 39, 44, 48, 51, 53, 60, 62, 64, 66, 69, 71, 75, 76, 83, 89, 94, 96, 97, 99, 100.

(In the Harvard copy the etched number on J75 looks very much like "77" and may possibly be another trace of earlier arrangement; yet the etched number in the same position that turns up in the Morgan and the Rosenbloom copies is "75".)

This tally leaves only six unaccounted for. On J45[40] the "9" (or the two-digit number ending in "9") was never (visibly) replaced. In the Harvard copy the "46" on J46[41] is very lightly etched; it reappears as "45" in the Morgan and posthumous copies. J50 with its engraved "19" remained unchanged. J57 was probably correctly numbered; the "5" is visible in the Morgan copy, in a two-digit number. The same may be said of J82, an "8" being visible in the Morgan copy. J95, however, which we know began as 94, has no visible number in any copy. Since Blake numbered its replacement, J94, we cannot argue that the change was made after the time of numbering; indeed it was made before the earliest known copies. By this recount, all but two of the 100 plates seem likely to have had correct numbers for the printing of the Mellon and Harvard copies; more likely than not they all had.

In the Mellon copy further indications of early shifting in Chapter 1 appear in traces of two earlier numbers. Beside the "18" on J18 there is a deleted number that looks like "12", though in the Morgan and Rosenbloom copies it looks more like "20". And on J26 there is a trace of a deleted number below the "26".

No further numbering appears to have been done after the printing of the Mellon and Harvard copies — yet when he came to print the Morgan copy Blake did not simply disregard his numbers. It might be supposed that he simply printed — or had printed — a complete set of 100 leaves and then rearranged the second chapter before adding folio numbers (inscribed decisively but in the extremely shaky hand of illness or of age). But there are indications that he thought about his sequence and rearranged


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the copper plates before the printing. He did not renumber J29-41, 43-46, the plates that change position in Chapter 2. He did, however, scratch the "standard order" numbers on these plates, to delete them. The deletion marks are clearly visible on J31, 32, 33, and 41. The numbers on J30, 35, 40, 44 are too faintly printed to reveal scratch marks, but this faintness may be the result of scratching. And more thorough deletion would be a possible explanation for the invisibility of "standard" numbers on J45 and 46. All things considered, the final act of returning to his earlier order seems to have been as deliberate as the decision to depart from it had been.

There remain to be noted three further instances of abandoned early numbers which show up on the posthumously printed plates. On J19 is a row of three numbers, "19", possibly "16", and "19" (apparently indicating a double move). On J23, beside "23", is a deleted number possibly "24". And on J37[33] beside the "37" there is a deletion that may be the "36" visible in the British Museum copy, there undeleted.

Note: Blake's foliation of the Morgan copy is worth further remark. Little study has been made of the differences between what is called "forger's tremble" and the tremble of physical weakness. The reason the forger's hand trembles, however, is that his hand is not habituated to the style he is imitating; as he proceeds his trembling will decrease. The numbering of these pages shows a reverse symptom: the first numbers are inscribed with a bold confidence (for Blake's hand is indeed well trained in his own style), but a wave of weakness causes the "5" to waver and the "6" to tremble exceedingly; recovering, perhaps with a pause, the writer makes a steady 7, 8, 9, but trembles again on 10; again slightly on 13, greatly on 17, and so on. Waves of weakness seem to affect the writing, reaching subsequent peaks on 23, 29-30, 37-38, 47, 56-57, 63, 70, 76-77, 82, 87-88-89, 96-97.

In this context, the signs of erasure and mending may point only to mistakes made in weakness. The "82", a very shaky numeral, was vaguely mended during inscription; there is similar mending and possible erasure in "38". But something more curious occurs in the first pages of Chapter 2. The "29" (on J33[29]) is written on top of an erased number, possibly a "33". The "30" (on J34[30]) is over an erasure, and 30, 31, 32 are in black ink but mended in gray ink, though the mending seems only a retracing without changes. Did prophet and spectre have one final wrestling over these twice-shifted pages? If so, the earlier Blake firmly won the victory.